Feb 21, 2017, 10:20AM

Confronting Procrastination

Now's the time for planning. 

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I’m reading a New Yorker article about procrastination as I plan for my first home-schooling session with Simone. I’ll teach Simone, who is 13, in several subjects. Language arts: nonfiction essays, debates, poetry, and novels. Some history: current events and political chaos. Physical science, with an emphasis on genetics. And last, the topic I’m most interested in creating curriculum around, organizational development, study skills, and habits. Wouldn’t each of us have benefitted from a genuine course in self-motivation, organization, and reflection, in order to be better high school and college students? If there’s one enormous blind spot in the national common core standards it’s this. My mom, a retired second-grade teacher who was always harping about time management when I was in high school, will surely find it ironic that I’ll be imparting these lessons to a 13-year-old.

Thus, the Google search and the resultant eight-page examination of procrastination.

I’ve home-schooled once before. A summer course in U.S. history, delivered one-on-one. A positive experience in which my knowledge of the subject matter grew from the practice of delivering the mostly-school-prescribed curriculum. Teaching primary source material in history is challenging. The language of George Washington’s farewell address is actually very accessible, but it remains the language of the late-18th century. As President Obama alluded to upon exiting the office, the challenge Washington laid out for us, as citizens of this democratic experiment, is as real today as it was in 1796.

As I prepare for the next four months of home-schooling, I’m dealing with a tutoring company that refuses to pay me for all of this extra prep work. “Start your own company!” you might say. If I was better networked, I might. As it stands, I need their connections. The tutoring will supplement the night-class teaching until June, when the baby arrives.

A week ago, I went to Portland with an old friend and met up with another old friend. I bought a spinning top, hand-carved, when we’d finished our rainy tour of the Japanese Tea Garden. Planning. Planning’s everything at the moment.

Planning for the baby. Researching cribs and strollers and dressers with changing tables. Planning for the fall. Visits from grandmothers and grandfather. When the school year starts up again, imagining the new universe of infanthood. Luckily we’ll have no need for an immediate nanny, with work schedules balancing each other out.

Planning for the fight against tyranny. How to defend ourselves from our own government and political chaos. Planning a life that balances teaching, writing, parenting, and marriage. One interesting philosophical note, from the examination of procrastination: the idea that we have competing selves, and that we’re constantly weighing the urges of those many selves. Not only when it comes to work vs. play, but in our daily choices. The desire for people to queue up their Netflix with serious films, who choose instead the lowbrow comedies of the moment. The all-too-common urge to make a long list of New Year’s resolutions, only to resolve nothing about one’s underlying reasons for these habits.

Procrastination is about narrowing options. It’s about weighing and prioritizing, but it’s also about intrinsic desire. If you really want to do something, you’ll find ways to motivate yourself. You’ll limit your distractions. You’ll carve out the time to do the things you really want to do: this is the hope. Time will always be leaky and fluid and easy to lose track of.

The questions linger: How to keep one’s many selves from getting stuck on one thing? How to keep one’s many selves from spilling too much self out into too many areas at once? How to keep from allowing one’s self to be pulled in too many directions at once? As I watch from the window, cars speed along the freeway in the distance. The traffic I have avoided, at least for now.

—Jonah Hall’s forthcoming memoir, The Dusty Jumper, is about basketball, identity, anxiety, and fandom.

  • The Neoplatonists - who believed philosophy was a practice, not a theory - talked about three phases for the soul: - Going Forth - Remaining - Turning Back and going home. It seems to me that life has phases like this, and that adulthood has a lot of "going forth" to many things. That is how the many selves get generated, right? But a little time spent "remaining" with what is, and "going home" to one's secret world each day - just a few moments - maybe can protect one from the madness of planning and traffic. What do you think?

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